“Leomie, these people are not your friends.”
Leomie Anderson’s mother spoke these blunt words to her daughter when she was 14 years old, just beginning her foray into modeling. Though she was young then, Leomie’s never been naive: In her TEDx talk, she speaks about how modeling is no fairy-tale ride. Particularly as a Black model in an industry full of notoriously white-washed runways, Anderson faces a slew of additional challenges.
Anderson, 25, a London-born model and designer, was skeptical when she was first scouted in 2010. But once Anderson dove in, she took off. She appeared on the 2011 reality show The Model Agency, has walked the runway for Victoria’s Secret Fashion several times and was featured in Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty Campaign in 2017. She’s walked for a long list of impressive names like Marc Jacobs and Emporio Armani and appeared in ad campaigns for Topshop, Moschino and Uniqlo, among others. As Anderson has gained traction, she’s leveraged her growing platform to emerge as an unapologetic voice who peels back the veneer of the modeling industry.
For her robust followings on Instagram (214,000) and Twitter (27,000), she calls attention to makeup artists’ and hairstylists’ inexperience working with Black skin tones and afro-textured hair, and she criticizes how models with darker complexions land fewer jobs. She speaks out about the tokenization she’s experienced, the competitiveness of castings and the debt many new models incur when they travel abroad without knowing if they’ll land a show.
“If more people had spoken up before I had started modeling, I would have gone into it more prepared,” she said in a September 2017 interview with Dazed Digital. “I want young models coming up to be prepared, and I want people looking at these magazines and feeling insecure about themselves to realize that everybody has their insecurities and nobody is perfect, even if this picture is.”
Leomie Tweet 1
Leomie Tweet 2
In 2016 Anderson took her activism a step further by launching a clothing brand called LAPP (“Leomie Anderson the Project the Purpose”). LAPP seeks to embody the 21st-century girl by representing not only her style but also the issues she cares about. LAPP’s first collection centered around reclamation of the word “no” and now includes anti–Donald Trump items that say “This p***y grabs back.” What’s more, the website is curated with articles submitted by women about sex, health and politics, among other topics — in many ways, an extension of Anderson herself.
Anderson is a part of a growing wave of activism as the fashion world embraces racial diversity. During the fall 2018 season, a record-high 32.5 percent of castings went to models of color, according to an analysis of 242 shows and 7,068 model appearances in New York, London, Milan and Paris by Fashion Spot.
While social media has made it easier than ever to hear feedback and touch a broader audience in fashion — as in most industries — real change still has to come at the top. “You get more diversity when it’s also reflected in the decision-making process,” says Nicole Cokley-Dunlap, vice president of Bloomingdale’s and co-president of the Black Retail Action Group (BRAG), a nonprofit organization that prepares and educates people of color for executive leadership in retail, fashion and related industries. “So when you think about who’s selecting the models, if you’re selecting people who you identify with and you have group affinity for, then it will be hard to embrace difference.”
Though castings remain far from representative, well-known names increasingly are using their influence to move the needle. Tracee Ellis Ross only wore pieces by Black designers when she hosted the 2018 American Music Awards. People like Bethann Hardison have been vocal champions for diversity in modeling for decades, and luxury names like Gucci, in partnership with Dapper Dan, have broadened the castings of models, according to BRAG co-president and Macy’s executive vice president Shawn Outler. Cokley-Dunlap notes that members of Generation Z have strong expectations about equity.
It all means voices like Anderson’s — bold, uncompromising, uniquely her own — will only get louder.